Thursday, 6 July 2017

Unnatural offences

Gay Pride '85 - I was there!

From The Independent:
“It was a famous gay pub,” says [activist and writer] Andrew Lumsden. “It was a place that made money out of gay customers and had declared a policy that no one in drag would be served, probably at the request of local police.

“About 20 of us went in, many of us dressed in drag. The landlord told us to get out and we refused so he called the police. In the end the police carried us out.”
The group were charged with disorderly conduct.

To happily add salt to the wound, members of the group attended their date at the Magistrates' Court dressed in their finest gowns.

“The Radical Queens arrived in beautiful drag. The magistrate was quite put out. There was no pretence that they were women. They were in hats, and frocks. Indeed immensely hairy chests surrounded by frills and furbelows was one of the great sights of the movement. We wanted to show that we were free to dress as we liked.

If we want to be camp, we will. It was breaking down the stereotypes of what a man must be like."
It is fifty years since the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. It was a landmark ruling, but deeply flawed. Trust the saintly Peter Tatchell to provide an in-depth analysis of what was the reality after the passing of The Sexual Offences Act 1967:
...research reveals that an estimated 15,000-plus gay men were convicted in the decades that followed the 1967 liberalisation. Not only was homosexuality only partly decriminalised by the 1967 act, but the remaining anti-gay laws were policed more aggressively than before by a state that opposed gay acceptance and equality.

The 1967 legislation repealed the maximum penalty of life imprisonment for anal sex. But it still discriminated. The age of consent was set at 21 for sex between men, compared with 16 for sex between men and women; a decision that pandered to the homophobic notion that young men are seduced and corrupted by older men. The punishment for a man over 21 having non-anal sex with a man aged 16-21 was increased from two to five years.

Gay sex remained prosecutable unless it took place in strict privacy, which meant in a person’s own home, behind locked doors and windows, with the curtains drawn and with no other person present in any part of the house. It continued to be a crime if more than two men had sex together or if they were filmed or photographed having sex by another person. Seven men in Bolton were convicted of these offences and two were given suspended jail terms – in 1998.

The 1967 reform applied to only England and Wales, not being extended to Scotland until 1980 and to Northern Ireland until 1982. It did not include the armed forces or merchant navy, where sex between men remained a criminal offence. Gay military personnel and merchant seamen could still be jailed until 1994, for behaviour that was no longer a crime between gay civilians. Legislation authorising the sacking of seafarers for homosexual acts on UK merchant ships was repealed only last month.

Centuries-old anti-gay laws remained on the statute book long after 1967 as “unnatural offences”. The two main gay crimes continued to be anal sex, known in law as buggery; and gross indecency, which was any sexual contact between men including mere touching and kissing. There was also the offence of procuring – the inviting or facilitating of gay sex. The law against soliciting and importuning criminalised men chatting up men or loitering in public places with homosexual intent, even if no sexual act took place.

Men were convicted under this law, before and after 1967, for merely smiling and winking at other men in the street.

...There were police stake-outs in parks and toilets, sometimes using “pretty police” as bait to lure gay men to commit sex offences. Gay saunas were raided. “Disorderly house” charges were pressed against gay clubs that allowed same-sex couples to dance cheek to cheek. Gay and bisexual men, and some lesbians, continued to be arrested until the 1990s for public displays of affection, such as kissing and cuddling, under public order and breach of the peace laws.

In 1966, the year before partial decriminalisation, some 420 men were convicted of gross indecency. But by 1974, my research shows, the annual number of convictions had soared by more than 300% to 1,711 in that year...

...In the 1980s, the Conservative government’s “family values” campaign whipped up hysterical levels of homophobia, aided by the moral panic over HIV/Aids. At the 1987 Conservative party conference Margaret Thatcher used her keynote speech to attack the notion that people had a right to be gay.

Coinciding with this intolerant atmosphere was a massive rise in arrests of gay men for consenting behaviour. In Home Office archives I found that there were 1,718 convictions and cautions for gross indecency in 1989. The 2,022 recorded offences of gross indecency that year was almost as many as the 2,034 recorded in 1954, when male homosexuality was totally illegal.

Full reform did not happen until 46 years after 1967. The gross indecency law of 1885 had been used to convict the computer genius Alan Turing in 1952 and, before him, to jail the playwright Oscar Wilde in 1895. Together with the criminalisation of anal sex, it was finally repealed by the Sexual Offences Act 2003. As a result, for the first time in 470 years, England and Wales had a criminal code that did not penalise gay sexuality. In Northern Ireland, the ban on anal sex was not finally repealed until 2008. Scotland’s anti-gay laws were repealed in 2009 but, in the case of sodomy, did not take effect until 2013. It seems scarcely credible, but gay sex ceased to be a crime in the UK only four years ago.
Food for thought, indeed.

So, although we celebrate the significant progress that has been made since the Sexual Offences Act fifty years ago, it is worth recognising that what today is a huge, micro-managed, over-regulated "parade" through Central London - Gay Pride - should actually be a prominent acknowledgement of the battles for genuine equality [by the likes of Mr Lumsden and his chums, and generations of feisty and indefatigable campaigners and protesters who followed] that actually took almost 46 years to achieve.

And in our charts this week fifty years ago?

How appropriate - It's Queen Aretha!

Find out what it means to me!


Watch When gay acts were a crime, a vignette from the BBC.


  1. Things have a little way to go.......thank god.....just a little

    1. In this country, yes. However, the wave of homophobia engulfing the rest of the globe is a war yet to be won. Jx

  2. I sometimes wonder at what point in our evolution did we lose our sense of worth...
    I still hear people use words like poofter.

    1. The last person who called me that got a smack in the mouth. Unfortunately not everyone's an irascible Welsh bitch such as I... Jx


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